Memory Mastery: How to Maintain a Good Memory as You Age

Growing older comes with a laundry list of perks and concerns. On one hand, you're given the opportunity to enjoy the fruits of your labor. A life well-lived is rewarded with wisdom and the ability to approach and appreciate family, friends, and the beautiful world around us. 

On the other hand, things start slowing down a little bit. Your body may start to fail you at times, and your mind might not work quite as well as it once did. One thing that many people value the most is keeping a good memory. 

So long as your memories, wit, and personality remain intact, you're able to remain yourself throughout old age. A lot of people think that losing memory is just a normal part of the aging process. 

This doesn't have to be true. We're going to discuss the art of keeping your memory throughout old age.

Understanding the Brain and Memory

There's a common belief that mental acuity grows and grows until a person hits their mid-twenties, then gradually declines from there.

This isn't necessarily true. New research is telling us that the brain grows in some areas and declines in others as we age. It isn't just one gradually slump into a foggy, thoughtless death. 

We're still able to grow and learn as we enter old age, and there are some ways in which our thinking excels as we grow old. That means a few things. First, it means that you aren't powerless over your memory.

Second, it means that there are ways to keep a quick wit and memory through old age, and you can establish habits that keep you sharp.

In order to understand this process a little better, we should discuss the specific processes that our brains undergo, affecting our memories for better or worse.

What Actually Happens in the Brain

In terms of memory, some interesting things happen throughout the aging process. The hippocampus one area of the brain that plays an extremely important role in retaining long and short-term memory. The prefrontal cortex also plays a part in short-term memory as well as working memory. 

Prefrontal activity also has to do with attention and interpretation, which can also play a part in the nature of memories. These areas of our brain shrink with age.

Our neurons are coated with something called myelin sheath. These are fibers that protect and aid our neurons in communicating information. Age wears these fibers down, and information is communicated less rapidly through our brains. 

Additionally, receptors at the ends of our neurons called dendrites gradually lose their ability. As a result, we can't quite recall a person's name or we forget what we walked into a room to grab. 

Where our young brains are shooting information to and fro with ease, the aging brain's parts are a little rusty and can't quite move as quickly as they once did. 

The Bright Side of Age and Memory

There's one particular advantage to age's effect on our memory. 

It's unfortunate that our brains aren't able to interpret and receive information as rapidly when we're old. Age provides an individual with a wide bank of knowledge, however, and it seems like older people tend to have a view of the wider context. 

One great analogy is that age provides us with a clear view of the forest but prevents us from seeing individual leaves. In other words, our minds can piece together far-reaching bits of information and compose more comprehensive ideas. 

This fact is could be considered one of the key components of wisdom. If a person can take one piece of information and fit it into the grander context of life, they are thought to have some virtue. 

This happens as we age because our dendrites expand more rapidly with age. Dendrites serve as branches of neurons, reaching out to connect with other dendrites and transfer information. The fact that dendrites expand as we grow old should be encouraging. 

How to Maintain a Good Memory

The processes described above are just templates for what an "average brain" will do over the course of its existence. You don't have to fit perfectly into that template, and you can certainly do things that will support healthy brain function into old age. 

You aren't at the whim of your body's progression. We're going to talk about some specific ways in which you can improve and maintain your memory throughout your life. 

1. Never Stop Learning

One way to keep your mind sharp is to never stop using it. You may think that you're always using your mind to think in one way or another, and this is true to an extent, but there's a difference between active learning and passively thinking. 

Read books on a regular basis, dive deep into some sort of subject, have extended conversations with friends, and never let yourself get lazy. 

You don't have to stuff your nose into a book all of the time, either. Learning doesn't have to fall into an exclusively academic category. Reading and challenging your ideas is certainly a great way to keep your mind sharp, but exposing yourself to new things, in general, will do the trick. 

This might mean going for walks in new places, looking at the wildlife and taking note of new things. Talk with new people, learn how they think, and discuss ideas with them. 

Whatever you're deciding to do and learn, just try to challenge yourself. Doing this will keep your memory intact.

2. Convince Yourself You Can

There's no shortage of myths and stereotypes about the aging memory. You don't have to fall into any of these categories if you don't want to. 

Placing low or negative expectations upon yourself can directly affect the way that you perform. If you don't believe you can do something, you are far less likely to try and accomplish that thing. This happens on both conscious and subconscious levels. 

When you're thinking about yourself and how your memory will develop, having a positive and hopeful take will ignite you to actively work toward your goal. Further, your underlying ideas and convictions about age and yourself will affect how you develop cognitively. 

For example, if you believed that there was no hope for the aging brain, you would be far less likely to consider new information that could change your entire perspective. That information would get thrown out, while someone with an open mind would take it in and use it to effectively maintain their memory. 

3. Stay Active

There's some evidence to show that exercising actually increases the volume of a person's hippocampus.

Exercising regularly in old age can improve a great number of things for your mental and physical well-being. Any time you increase your heart rate and cause extra blood to pump throughout your body, your brain benefits. 

Additionally, exercise increases the odds that you will be happy and alert throughout the day. You will be less able to function cognitively if you are tired, depressed, and in poor physical shape. 

It's difficult to dispute the overwhelming benefit of being active at all points of your life, not just old age. In old age, though, exercise can help to prevent any number of physical illnesses from developing. 

Severe physical impairment can lead to feelings of depression, low self-worth, and helplessness, and these mental states will certainly have a negative effect on your memory. 

4. Give Yourself a Hand

While you can work to maintain a great deal of your memory function, things like short-term and working memory are likely to fade. 

For example, you might have no trouble recalling the names and faces of everyone you know, but your keys will get misplaced more often than they used to. 

You don't have to see these things like weaknesses or obstacles to your daily functioning. Acknowledge the reality that you're going to be a bit forgetful from time to time. 

Keep a tight schedule and make the habit of writing down appointments and responsibilities. Establish particular places for your personal items to go when you're not using them. If you stay organized and make strong habits when it comes to the little things that you tend to forget, you'll have a much easier time.

Additionally, getting frustrated and caught up on little particulars can prevent you from enjoying and using your remaining memory in the other areas of life. 

5. Don't Drink Too Much

Drinking excessively can have terrible effects on your memory over time. Not only does the potential for blackouts exist, but drinking too much can lead to memory loss, serotonin syndrome, tremors, seizures, and more. 

Alcohol is an interesting factor, though, because light or moderate drinking can actually improve your mental well-being over time. In fact, moderate drinkers were almost 25% less likely to develop memories issues like dementia or Alzheimer's in one study

The difficulty lies in knowing how much to drink. If you are drinking to get drunk every night, you are drinking too much. It doesn't matter so much what you drink, but how much you drink. 

For example, it doesn't matter whether you're drinking beer or liquor. Generally, "moderate" drinking means having one or two glasses of your preferred beverage per day. 

Slipping up and getting drunk here and there isn't going to be the end of the world. If you slip up every night of the week, though, you can expect to experience mental and physical health issues

6. Apply Yourself to Something

Retirement is something to be enjoyed. While many of us think of the glory years as times to sit back, relax, and watch, you might find yourself getting bored after a few years. 

People who have something to apply themselves to are much more likely to maintain a healthy memory. Having a sense of purpose and something to actively think about is conducive to healthy brain function. 

We know that having purpose improves cognitive function, but it's difficult to say why. It makes sense, though, that having something to get up and do every day will keep all of the wheels turning. 

7. Stay Optimistic

You'll notice that a number of the items in our list involve belief. General optimism across the board can only help your chances of being happy and healthy. 

It seems like a fanciful idea, but the more scientists look into it, the more the power of belief seems to have a strong effect on the way our minds and bodies work. Giving up, it follows, is the absolute worst thing that you can do as you get older. 

It would be hard to constantly eat right, never drink to excess, remember every time you set your keys down, and get up when the alarm goes off every morning. The thing that you can carry throughout your pitfalls is your attitude. 

Establishing a positive outlook on yourself and the things you do will help you get back up and keep trying in the future. We're all human, and we're bound to have little failures along the way.

Even if your efforts to maintain a good memory start to slip over time, you can adjust your perspective of what those slips mean. Instead of fussing over why you've forgotten something, the more effective option might be to let your frustration go. 

Over time, positive thinking will generate a positive result. Practices like meditation or engagement in a spiritual community can help you to cultivate these overarching, meaningful mindsets. We can't suggest that you take one particular path to this kind of thinking, we recommend that you implement a few into your life. 

Need a Little Help?

As memory starts to fail us, it might be time to consider getting some light assistance in your day to day activities. Continuing care retirement communities are excellent places to help you keep a good grasp on the ins and outs of normal life. 

If you're interested in exploring your options for continuing care, take a look at our site for all of the information you need.